There’s not much to shout about when it comes to the Leeds Playhouse, Belgrade Theatre and Rose Theatre co-production of Lord of the Flies, when the ensemble of schoolchildren do a lot of that themselves. Directed by Amy Leach, this take on William Goulding’s popular book is full of excitement and noise (as is to be expected from a story about a group of teens’ descent into frenzied barbarism), but that leaves little room for the quiet eeriness which is just as haunting.
It’s particularly disappointing when John Biddle’s piano melodies are clearly better suited to gloomier moments of reflection on the group’s sanity and morality, instances which never really arise in all the hectic games of ‘pass the conch’ (only the person holding the shell can speak at meetings) and the chasing of a mysterious ‘beast’. At times, the cast are so caught up in the fast-paced movement of the show that they will trample over fake fires. One instance saw Ralph comment on Piggy’s unusual jumper, before he had even had chance to take off his coat and show it to us.
The score, together with projected dialogue, is often poorly sound designed to the extent it is difficult to make out what is being said. It’s present in the last few confrontations between Ralph (Angela Jones) and Jack (Olly Rhodes), but not in the final scene in which Ralph weeps for a murdered Piggy (Jason Connor). To do so in silence, against the backdrop of lingering piano notes, would have been devastating.
We’re given a glimpse of what a greater use of this tone could have done for the production in the scene where Simon (Adam Fenton) is mistaken for the ‘beast’ and killed. Murky red lighting is swapped in as the company act out the violence in slow motion, each fanatical face in the huddle visible for a moment. It encourages a moment to question just how this group of children could have stooped so low, but doesn’t interrogate it enough detail. Only slight implications allude to this, in Ralph’s transition from a cocky and malicious schoolgirl to a sound leader (well handled by Jones), and Piggy being one of the only individuals who can see just how sinister everything is getting – even when he doesn’t have his glasses on.
In that role, Connor plays him with a shy, but robust attitude which warms us to Piggy, if the bullying and fat-shaming wasn’t enough. Other commendable performances include Rhodes as the understudy for Jack, portraying the antagonist as one who gleefully basks in his newfound power and menace, and the use of British Sign Language by Deaf duo Eloise Pennycott and Ciaran O’Breen (Sam and Eric respectively) initially unites the group in some charming camaraderie and community in early scenes.
It’s just a shame that we don’t see such companionship collapse in a way which is particularly considered or masterful. Loudness does not always equal chaos, disorder and evil, not least when it often begins with being far more insidious. When everything is in your face, like this Lord of the Flies, it unfortunately leaves little for the audience to dig into and discover for themselves.
Lord of the Flies is now playing at the Rose Theatre until 22 April, before playing the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry (25-28 April) and Newcastle’s Northern Stage (3-5 May). All performances are audio described.
Production Images: Anthony Robling.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Lord of the Flies’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and while I know Eloise Pennycott in a personal capacity, all opinions stated above are honest and my own.